Conference in days of isolation

I spent today attending the Doing Science in a Pluralistic Society Colloquium.1 Part of the event was an Author Meets Critics session for Matt Brown’s forthcoming book, Science and Moral Imagination. Matt’s project is framed by the doubt-belief model of enquiry which I’ve been blogging about recently.

In the Peircean idiom: The irritation of doubt is what starts genuine enquiry and that belief is what ends it. In the Deweyan idiom: Enquiry begins with a perplexity or problematic situation and ends with judgment.

During the session, a worry occurred to me about this model. I wrote it out in the Q&A, realized I’d just written a couple of declarative sentences, and so posed a question at the end. Here’s what I wrote:

One might think that the doubt-belief model is a poor fit with the social nature of science. That is, the particular people doing the enquiry might not feel the perplexity which is driving it. Does that pose a problem for your approach?

It was at the end of the Q&A, and Matt only had a moment to reply. He conceded that the problem situation might not impinge on everyone involved in the enquiry to the same degree. That is, the perplexity might not be felt as such by all the individuals involved in the community effort. Nevertheless, he said, “Across the life course of the whole enquiry, perplexity and conclusion are controlling factors.”2

  1. The organizers had originally planned a face-to-face conference at the University of Dayton. Rather than cancel, they changed it to being on video using Zoom. Zoom calls this sort of interaction a webinar, as distinct from a meeting. Prior to the current isolation, webinars were like life hacks in being things I wanted nothing to do with. Be that as it may, it was great.
  2. Assuming I wrote down his answer correctly. And assuming it doesn’t violate a social norm for me to share his response here— if it does, then let’s pretend this is a fictional description.

2 thoughts on “Conference in days of isolation”

  1. I’m not sure what I said, but I think I must have meant: “Across the life course of the whole enquiry, perplexity and the indeterminate situation are controlling factors.”

    I’m not sure I’m totally happy with that. Discussing with Joyce her concerns about perplexity after the day wrapped up, I suggested that perhaps the phenomenological side of the description had gotten too much attention in the book, and it was the *functional* state of indeterminacy (and its resolution) that is crucial.

  2. Thanks, Matt.

    So a scientist who is part of a community-level structure of enquiry is implicated in the indeterminate situation, but (I take it) there might be no intrinsic or local facts about the scientist which would reveal this. This seems like a pragmatist resolution, in line with Dewey’s enthusiasm for relations or Putnam’s externalism.

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